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Jul

31

SAINTS TRAINING CAMP: UPDATE #1

5 days in, the scheduled day off comes at right time

By Gus Kattengell / @gkatt_17

Tuesday, the final month of July, couldn’t come at a more perfect time for the New Orleans Saints. The bumps and bruises of training camp have begun to take a toll on the team as they wrapped up their third straight padded practice on Monday.

Sunday saw wide receiver Travin Dural suffer per several reports a broken left humerus. It’s the most severe of the injuries so far through five days as we’ve seen a few players leave early from practice. Center Cameron Tom was seeing with his arm in a sling on Monday as he reportedly has a chest injury. Rookie defensive back Kamrin Moore reportedly has a hamstring injury. Head coach Sean Payton has made it clear he will not comment on injuries and won’t do so until he is required to release an injury report.

HOW THEY LOOK

It’s the question that’s asked during training camp to those that attend the practices so here are a few things that have stood to me through five practices. We got to watch 5 practices before camp with three OTA and two mini camp workouts but then and even through the first two days of training camp practices, coaches and players kept saying just wait until the pads come on to start evaluating. Well the hitting has started so here is what has stood out so far.

ROOKIE SHINE: When answering who’s stood out, you have to start by saying “well besides QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara as they are on another level. So other then the trio the player that has stood out so far easily is rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith. The UCF product has made play after play day after day. I’ve referenced him as a “must roll” player as in you better be rolling video when he lines up cause here comes a play.

Smith has shown the long speed that got him drafted but he has also shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic, catch and run, jump up and grab the ball over defenders and earned an “atta-boy” from QB Drew Brees after going up and coming down hard on the final play of Sunday’s practice. Brees ran 40-50 yards to help him up and pat him on the helmet.

He just stands out with his 6-2 frame and at times flashing solid balance to stay upright after contact. It’s been to the point where at times many in the media while watching hold up two fingers after a play as in “this is the second best receiver on the team”.

D-FENCE

In the past when QB Drew Brees showed signs of frustration by snapping off his chin straps quickly, slamming down his helmet, or giving a brief yell to go with a hard hand smack you were concerned it was the offense not performing up to expectations. Shockingly it’s been the norm so far at training camp.
The Saints defense has frustrated Brees and company with pass break ups, interceptions, tip balls at the line, strips on ball carriers, coverage sacks, and stretching out runs where the defense looks like a flowing school of fish. Head coach Sean Payton still is unhappy that the consistency level isn’t where he would like it to be in that they’ll be a big play given up after several good plays but trust me there has been many more good plays then bad ones.

Monday’s practice alone was a defensive clinic as the defense collected four interceptions with three coming from the linebacking corps in Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson and Demario Davis. The linebacker position group is the best and deepest it’s been I dare say since the Dome Patrol, which isn’t saying much for as we all know there have been some lean years in that group.

I’ve had one heck of a challenge so far this training camp in trying to temper my enthusiasm and praise of this Saints defense but man I KNOW the Saints offense has weapons and I’m telling you Brees and company are having to fight for every yard or catch.

PBU-CITY

Ok it seems like I’m just continuing for the above point but specifically the Saints secondary seems to record a PBU literally on every other play if not every play. If it’s not a clean pass break up, the defensive backs are doing just enough to keep the play from being a completion. Several times the receivers have won the route and are open but at completion or coming down with the catch, a hand dislodges the ball and poof you got an incompletion. On my radio show I’ve asked and suggested we tweet during games after a PBU a catchy hash tag. I’m suggesting “#PBUcity”.

TESTY SEAN

One of the concerns you had heading into camp was how would a talented yet young team handle expectations. Competition helps. This team has so many areas on the squad where snaps if not jobs are up for grabs or on the line that if you’re not focused on that it could me a pink slip. Another way to keep a team grounded and focused is the coaches staying on the players. You can’t feel or act like you’ve made it if you’re constantly being told or shown you haven’t.

An example of this was Sunday when Payton was asked about where the team is and he brought up sloppiness such as dropped snaps and areas of concern such as the return game. He likened it to the television show “The Bachelor” referencing there were 12 roses and it was anybody’s job for the taking.

Many saw it as Sean being funny but to me it was coach understanding the importance of that area on his team and what it could mean come game time. Look the NFC is loaded and the Saints schedule looks daunting so it’s not impossible to think that the black and gold will be in some tough games this season. Think a return outside the ten yard line matters? It opens the playbook to more then okay let’s not make a mistake and punt it. A return close to or over the 30 could mean points or flips the field. I love that Sean is putting the emphasis on the return game. He knows every yard will matter in a season that can be special but for that to happen you have to give yourself the best chance at a win and special teams will play a vital role this season.

NEXT UP

Six practices remain following the team’s day off on Tuesday with only two of those being closed to fans. Sunday the team will practice at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium in an evening practice that begins at 7p.

The Saints will kick off their preseason schedule on Thursday August 9 at Jacksonville. Many national analysts consider the Jaguars as a team that could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. Thanks to several seasons of futility Jacksonville has drafted high in past drafts and have hit on some pretty good players especially on the defensive side of the ball. It will be interesting to see which team is deeper when starters come out of the game early.

Gus is the host of the Sports Hangover and can be heard weekdays on 100.3 FM ESPN New Orleans Monday through Friday 12 to 3pm.

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